We have to do better.
I still remember how scared I was during the 2015 riots/uprising in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray.
I understood the pain and outrage in the black community over the death of a young, black man in police custody, but looking back, I didn’t really get the depth of the collective trauma that was at the heart of it.
At the time, I was a Community School Coordinator at a predominately black elementary school about two miles down the road from Mondawmin Mall, the epicenter of the protests.
As word spread of a student-led protest at Mondawmin that afternoon, staff and families began to fear for the safety of our students as they left school for the day.
I had to take a different route on my way home, since I always passed the mall on my drive.
On my detour, I passed armored National Guard tanks and heavily armed soldiers. It was clear that this was much more than a student-led protest. I was rattled.
That night, I holed up in my apartment and spent the entire evening glued to the news, unable to do anything but watch my city burn.
Living close to downtown, I heard a lot of noise outside that night, but I was shocked to wake up and find buildings across the street boarded up, having been broken into the night before.
I felt that same initial shock this weekend when I saw images of my new city – Columbus, OH – on fire. While still frightening, I had a different understanding of the situation than I did five years ago.
In the five years since that night, I have continued to study, listen, and learn about the deeply institutionalized racism in this country and the violence that still accompanies it in modern-day America.
I now have a better understanding of how intensely traumatized our black communities are from centuries of oppression, discrimination, and brutality, and I also know that I can never truly know that pain for myself.
So the recent surge in senseless and hate-fueled killings of black men and women in this country has rested heavy on my heart.
I’ve felt sick over the horrific and unnecessary deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in recent weeks … and so many others before them.
I’ve heard the friends and colleagues I love question their own self-worth and the safety of their children just because of the color of their skin.
Dyjuan Tatro, featured in the moving series College Behind Bars, about the Bard Prison Initiative, summed this up so eloquently:
And yet, police brutality has only proliferated this week.
I’ve watched videos of officers driving their cars into crowds of protesters, pulling down a young man’s mask and pepper spraying him, and shooting protesters and journalists in the face with “non-lethal” bullets.
There is no reason for it, and there is no excuse. The blatant racism and hate crimes in our country must be prosecuted and condemned.
But let’s think for a moment about our country’s black youth.
On top of this historical and racial trauma that so many of them carry before they are old enough to understand it, they also attend under-resourced, hyper-segregated schools … and yet, we expect them to learn and function like those who are lucky enough to live without these burdens.
It doesn’t make sense. We have to do better.
I’m still grappling with my role in all of this and how I can try to make the world a bit better.
I will continue to serve and support communities and school districts serving black and brown youth, but somehow that doesn’t feel like enough.
I hope that as a nation, we can collectively remember that there is a common good, and that it is far easier to stand for that than to stand for hate.